Charles Frederick Holder.

Life in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California online

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and could not be ordered in ; so we rowed ourselves
and the men remained aboard.

I felt around the edge of this cave, and found a sort
of shelf on which the sea-lions evidently rested. I
could hear them plunge over as we approached, and
could see the flash of phosphorescence as they dashed
through the water adding to the uncanny nature of the

Some of the cries or barking of the sea-lions seemed
to come from a long distance under the mountain,
and, while it was mere conjecture, I should say four or
five hundred or more feet, seemingly carrying out the
idea of the men who believed that the cave ran com-
pletely under the mountain and was a den of not only
sea-lions, but other creatures of the sea. All the sea-
lions dashed for one starlike spot in the cave, the open-
ing through which we came ; and as we passed out I saw

294 Life in the Open

some swimming beneath the boat, joining a herd beyond
the entrance, when they swam away to Point Diablo, with
necks out of water, hurling at us literal yelps of fear and
rage. The story is told of two boatloads of men who
went in here to capture sea-lions. One boat remained
at the entrance to keep them in, while the other went
into the cave. As a result the lions rushed at the
opening and, finding it stopped, clambered into and
over the boat, sinking it and injuring some of the men.

At the present time the place where sea-lions are
mostly caught is on the south-west side of the island,
where the sea often makes a breach against the high
cliffs. In an isolated cleft of the rocks is a large
rookery impossible to reach in rough water, but so
situated that the herd cannot well escape when the men
go ashore. The latter are skilled cattlemen, who go
over on a power launch, anchor off the island, and wait
for a day when the lions are all on the rocks. Then
the boats work carefully in, watching their chance, the
rowers backing water and holding the boat on the big
waves until the sea-lion hunters have an opportunity to
jump ashore. Generally two or three men make the
attempt at one time, and drive the lions back for some
distance into a cul de sac.

When the animals find they are cornered, they
turn and charge the men, and it requires no little nerve
to stand and face the open mouths of the roaring an-
imals, which come on with a curious galloping, mena-
cing motion. It is at this psychological moment that

The Sea-Lion's Den 295

the men use their riatas, and thus rarely miss the lions,
who hold their heads high in the air, presenting an easy
mark for the roper. The moment the riata falls and the
game is caught, the men dash for the rocks, where they
can take a turn with their ropes. The lions make a
desperate effort to escape ; some break away, bite off
the rope, or slip it over their heads ; others reach the
water, and the men have to be active to escape the horde
of crazed animals, some of which weigh a thousand
pounds, which come sliding down the kelp toboggan.
After a long struggle the sea-lions are mastered ; the
most troublesome are gagged and bound, thrown over
and towed to boxes into which they are placed, later
being hoisted aboard the launch and carried to Santa
Barbara, from which place they are shipped to museums
or zoological gardens all over the world. , j

On Santa Rosa Island, which is twenty miles or more
in length, there are several rookeries where many sea-
lions can be found in winter, and at San Nicolas, about
eighty miles from San Pedro, there are a number. San
Nicolas is a region of fierce storms, and to hear the
roar of the sea-lions combined with that of the sea, to
watch the flying clouds and wild waves piling in, is
something I will long remember. We had tried
several times to land here, and had been driven off
time and again ; but one morning we gained the long
sandy spit that like a miniature Cape Cod is reaching
out into the sea from San Nicolas. It was on the lee
side, but a strong dangerous current was setting along

29 6 Life in the Open

the island, and the sea rushing in in big rollers from the
west, while others came around the point of the island
and joined them, making the landing particularly
dangerous. On the rocky point we could see the lions,
and their roars came in muffled notes as the wind swept
over this deserted spot seemingly destined to go into
the sea.

For some time we rode the breakers watching for an
opportunity, and when the waves came in less menacing
size we rowed in on the top of one, leaped over as the
boat struck the beach, and dragged it up the sands.
One man lived on this wind-swept place ; and he was on
the beach to meet us. Probably in all America there is
not a more desolate spot, or a more windy one, yet here
was a man, monarch of all he surveyed. He told us
that he had built his home down among the rocks so
that it would not be blown into the sea. I noticed
great stones on the roof ; these he said were to hold it
down, as the wind was terrible. He also seemed to fear
the sea-lions, and said that during heavy storms they
came up around his hut and roared and barked.

This great rookery was on the south end of the
island, low and rocky, and the herd was on the main
beach. Some of the lions here were very large, espe-
cially the bulls, but they paid but little attention to us.

About forty miles south of San Nicolas lies the
large island of San Clemente, twenty miles long. I
found a number of rookeries here, with many sea-lions ;
in nearly every instance in isolated places.

The Sea-Lion's Den 297

At Santa Catalina the largest rookery of sea-lions is
in the immediate vicinity of the best fishing ground,
many kinds of fishes abounding within a few hundred
feet of the place, and while the sea-lions are increasing
there is never any discernible decrease in the fish sup-
ply. The greatest cause of complaint against the sea-
lions comes from the net fishermen, who claim that they
visit the nets with great regularity and take out the fish.

I observed this on several occasions. A sea-lion
stationed itself near a net in the kelp, and every few
minutes dived down and swam along the net, biting off
the body of any fish that became gilled. This was done
despite the fact that I was near the net in a boat, with
the Italian owner, who hurled imprecations at the sea-
lion when it came up from the net with a large rock
bass in its mouth and deliberately tossed it into the air,
as though to irritate the fisherman, who, while robbed in
the grossest manner, was prevented by law from shoot-
ing the animals. No more interesting feature of wild
life can be seen on the Pacific Coast than the sea-lion
rookeries, and the ease and comfort with which one
reaches them render the sport of bringing them down
with the camera very enjoyable.

Chapter XX

Trolling in Deep Water

IN' sailing down the Santa Catalina Channel one
may often meet several trim launches flying gay
flags, several miles off the bay of Avalon. The
boats are models of comfort and utility ; about twenty
feet in length, with an eight-horse-power engine, and
two seats astern and facing it for the anglers, whose rods
point to port and starboard. The boatman is engineer,
gaffer and steersman, and sits behind them as they cruise
up and down the blue water, which may be a thousand
or more feet deep and doubtless is.

The game here is the bonito and albacore, the latter
a large mackerel-like fish allied to the bonito ; big-eyed,
stout of body, coloured a rich blue, and provided with a
pair of side fins that are so long they look like sabres
hung to the side of this doughty swashbuckler of the


The albacore is found here almost the entire year,
preferring the channel, away from land, though I
have taken it inshore along the kelp beds. The average


302 Life in the Open

catch weighs ten or fifteen pounds ; and in the San
Clemente Channel, to the west, albacores have been
caught that weighed one hundred pounds and were
doubtless the equal of any tuna of the same size.

Another albacore, ranking with the tuna as a game
fish and weighing about fifty pounds, is the yellow-fin,
or Japanese hirenaga (Sermo macropterus). This fish,
common at Nagadaka, appeared at Santa Catalina in
September of 1905, affording rare sport ; all the catches
averaged fifty pounds.

The albacore is always on the move, and going fast ;
it stands not on the order of going, but appears to be
on the constant lookout for game or victims of some
kind ; hence it is easy game for the angler, who rigs his
lure with a big smelt or a flying-fish, and moving fast
has a continuous series of strikes the fish making
a very gamy play, though, like nearly all deep
sea fish, inclined to sulk, although taken on the

The most remarkable rod catch ever made in these
waters was of albacore. The Avalon boatmen who took
out anglers and looked on, but never fished, one day de-
cided to go a-fishing ; so they refused work and every
launch went out with its owner and a friend in the
seats, bound for the trolling ground offshore. They had
agreed on the terms of the tournament, had prizes and
cups, and at the end of the day about thirty rods re-
ported about an average of ten albacores each ranging
from ten to thirty pounds, the aggregate making a


Trolling in Deep Water 303

remarkable display. The catch was given to the

The boatman baits the line, and the launch moves
on, now inshore, but still in deep water that is an in-
tense blue to the very cliff, showing that the island is a
mountain out at sea. The ocean is like glass, and so
clear that the big leaves of olive-hued kelp can be seen,
sixty feet or more below, slowly waving in the current.

We slack out forty feet of line and are watching the
charming panorama of lofty cliffs and silvery gates to
deep canons which wind upward into the mountains,
when ze-e-e-e-e-e, wh-r-r-r-r-r! goes the line and reel,
and something with fierce energy jerks the rod almost
clear of the angler's grip. The novice turns pale, per-
haps flushes, amazed at the ferocity of it all ; then rallies
and gives the butt to one of the gamiest of all the fishes
of the sea. Watch the marvellous play, the rush clear
away of two hundred feet despite the play of the thumb
on the heavy brake. Then it turns, comes swinging
around in half a circle ; now at the surface, now plung-
ing deep into the blue of the channel to make the rod
bend and groan.

Now he is gaining, reeling for life, the big multiplier
(and it must be big to hold all the line this fish will
take) eating up feet and yards as he reels and reels.
Now it is away, a plunge into the sea, and the angler is
forced to " pump " it up, raising the rod on high to
drop it with a quick motion, reeling all the while, and
gaining four or five feet at every effort, until finally a

34 Life in the Open

glint of silver and green is seen against the blue, and
along the quarter, circling the boat, bearing off bravely,
flashing in the sunlight, is a splendid bonito (Sarda

Minutes have crept away, and twenty have been
captured by the fish that, mad with fear, turns and
plunges downward to the cry of the reel ze-e-e-e-e /
music that makes the watery welkin ring, sounds that
stir the blood and flush the face. The rod and reel is
plied deftly, and the game is brought to gaff. What a
fish it is the boatman holds up ! three feet long if an
inch, with black stripes fore and aft ; blue or green on
the upper side, silver below ; and an eye of gold and
blue, a gem in itself.

Twenty pounds is the verdict, and taken on a six-
teen-thread line in just twenty minutes. Here is joy
enough, one would think, but while the anglers are ad-
miring the fine points of the fish, the other rod gives
tongue, and a blare of sounds strikes the air, while the
rod nods, bends, and swings up and down as though
mad. Away go feet and yards, until the spool
seems to be melting into the sea, and the boatman
whispers, " Stop him, sir, or he '11 get away with you

Stop him! aye, that 's the question, but how ? You
are pressing your right thumb on the line with all your
force. Your hand is numb, and the rushing, grinding
cord, a mere thread, is throwing a fine spray of pow-
dered leather in every direction. You press the line


Trolling in Deep Water 305

upon the rod with the left hand and give the unknown
the butt to the very danger point, until the rod creaks,
groans, and threatens to buckle, and then the unex-
pected happens the fish stops of its own accord ; stops
somewhere down in that blue abyss three hundred feet
away, to turn and come bounding up.

All the tricks of the salt sea trade are his : circling,
sounding, sulking, bravado ; all are tried in turn. Every
effort is made to break the line or rod, or take the
angler unawares ; but all to no purpose, and in fifteen
minutes the gaff slips beneath it, and a fifteen-pound
albacore (Sermo alalunga) is taken in "out of the wet,"
according to the boatman.

Out go the lines again, and in a few moments another
bonito is hooked; this time the "skip-jack" (Gym-
nosarda pelamis), smaller, but quite as gamy as the large
bonito. When taken from the water it is a veritable
humming-bird in its beauty of colouring scintillating
in iridescent tints of all kinds.

These fishes are ocean travellers, and found out
around the islands nearly the entire year. Off Santa
Cruz I have seen schools which fairly covered the sur-
face for acres ; and from the Coronados, north and south,
they are the common fish offshore, running with the
albacores and tunas, all at times forming a devastating
army ; charging the schools of flying-fishes, and in turn
being chased by the orcas, or killers, that parade up and
down the deep channel all summer.

There is a fascination about this fishing ground not

36 Life in the Open

hard to explain. The mainland shore is swept by the
constantly prevailing west wind, and by ten or eleven
o'clock, earlier or later as the case may be, it works up a
sea that makes angling not always a pleasure ; but to
the south-west of Santa Catalina or San Clemente there
is a lee, which extends many miles, in which the small
launches can ply nearly every day in very smooth water,
much like that of Lake Placid, the St. Lawrence, or
some mountain stream ; then if the wind springs up and
comes down the channel, they can run inshore, where it
is always calm, and still find good fishing. There is
hardly a day that some one does not make a novel
catch. It may be a giant sunfish, or a dolphin, the same
beautiful fellow of many colours found on the Atlantic
Coast, or it may be some rare fish from Hawaii, that
has made its way around in the great current of Japan ;
sword-fishes, the king of the herring, or opah, and many
more make up the season's bag, with rod or spear.

The play of the albacore is much like that of the
bonito, only harder, and is a revelation to the rod fisher-
man who has never taken large game, and I have
known a fish weighing not over sixty-three pounds
to tow a heavy boat and fight for two hours.

Chapter XXI

The California Weakfish

IN all probability more men go down New York Bay
for weakfish than for any other denizen of the
shallow waters, and thousands have sat in the hot
sun on the edge of the flats at the mouth of the river
and felt well repaid with a four- or five-pound weakfish.

What would such an angler say to a fifty-pounder,
not one but a dozen, or to see an eighty-pounder towing
a boat across a placid bay ? This can be seen in
Southern California, or from the Gulf to San Francisco,
as the Californians have a weakfish that is a giant,
ranging up to one hundred pounds or more.

The fishes of the largest size are found in Lower
California in the Gulf of California. I have been told of
fine sport on the coast north of Tiburon, where the
tide falls very low and comes in with a bore like that of
Hang Chow or the Bay of Fundy. On the crest of
this wave comes the white sea-bass, as it is called, a
typical weakfish ; and down in the Gulf it is taken by
standing on the beach and casting into the surf, in which


Life in the Open

way fishes weighing one hundred and fifty pounds have
been landed.

This is out of the world and on the edge of a desert,
but the same fish comes in on the Californian coast in
April and affords a short season. All those I have
caught weighed over fifty pounds, this being about the
average size of vast schools of the splendid game.
Santa Catalina and San Clemente islands appear to be
in the line of migration of the schools, and they are
taken at Port Hartford and along the coast. They first
appear, so far as known, at the south end of the island,
and move slowly north, entering the bays and lying
under the schools of sardines and smelt that congregate
here. Thus large schools will enter Avalon Bay, Ca-
brillo, and others, and can be followed up as the fishes
pass north.

I once ran into a large school at San Clemente
Island, which is about fifty miles offshore. We were
lying in a little bay when a ripple on the surface told of
a large school of fishes of some kind, and pushing off
we entered the largest school of bass I have ever seen.
They were fishes of the largest size, and were so tame
that they paid little or no attention to the boat. I could
easily have grained or speared them.

We had some flying-fishes, and my oarsman hooking
one on, I cast into the school thirty feet away. Down
they dropped, then a whirl of flying water, a miniature
maelstrom, and a fish had it. Here mark the difference
between game of one kind and game of another. The

The California Weakfish 31 1

fish seized the enormous bait and poised like a big
barracuda, gulping and trying to swallow it. This occu-
pied several seconds ; then, when the gastronomical feat
was an accomplished fact, it felt the slender wire leader
and suspecting that something was wrong, turned and
zeeee-zeee-zeee ! sounded the click, like a blare of silver
trumpets. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred
feet of line went hissing, screaming from the reel before
the rush was stopped, and then the fish came dashing
around the boat in a great circle on the. surface, present-
ing a fine spectacle of strength, beauty, and size.

There are those who do not care for large game a
fifty-pounder does not appeal to them, and I confess
that a four- or five-pound small-mouth black bass meets
my fancy best ; yet there is a fascination about taking a
large fish ; if this were not so it would not have passed
into song and history that the largest fishes always es-
cape. As I held my rod stiff and played gently upon
the leather pad, mentally figuring on the chances, I half
believed my fish was one of the " biggest " and would
escape, as I was experimenting with a very fine line not
equal to the task. The Chinese fisherman has an es-
pecial god for fishing. You may see it : a bunch of red
firecracker-like paper, pinned to the cabin or its wall ;
and I fancy something of the kind was around about, as
the particular saint that has charge of all anglers was
very kind to me and I saved my catch. He made a
brave fight and had I forced him the line and I would
have parted company long before ; but I handled him

312 Life in the Open

with care, gave line when he wished it very decidedly,
played him with caution, and kept down what ebullition
of spirits I might have had until the game was in the
boat. For nearly an hour this gamy fish fought me,
nearly always on the surface, gradually reaching off-
shore, coming to the gaff in a blaze of glory, and tossing
the water and the spray over the boat in a last defiance.
It was nearly five feet in length, an ocean peacock ; its
head ablaze with prismatic tints, its sides a rich grey,
the belly silver, looking very much like a typical salmon
and known to many anglers as the sea salmon ; yet
every inch a weakfish, and a fifty-pounder. *

It would be interesting to see such a fish played on
a typical salmon rod, to try the relative qualities of the
game. I do not know positively, but I fancy that the
white sea-bass would wreck the salmon rod, or make
the catch so long that the most patient angler would be

There is no more fascinating spectacle than a large
school of bass swimming near the surface types of dig-
nity, strength, and reserve force ; and the angler should
never allow the opportunity to pass, as they are extremely
fickle and the season a short one.

There is still another weakfish in Southern Cali-
fornia, called the sea trout, that does not grow so large,
found along the mainland shore where the larger bass
are rare, evidently giving the surf a wide berth.

1 Cynoscion nobile.

The California Weakfish 3*3

The young of the large bass are also called sea
trout ; gamy creatures rarely caught except in the gill-
nets of the professional fishermen. The latter have an
interesting calling at the channel islands, but particu-
larly in the Santa Catalina Channel, where all the mar-
ket fishing of Los Angeles County is done. The men
mostly Italians, go out in their typical lateen-rigged
boats and troll for the barracuda, that schools in these
waters and constitutes a favourite market fish. With
four or more hand lines boomed out, these boats sail up
and down the channel and catch barracuda by the score.

Then there is the sand dab fisherman, who goes
out three miles from Avalon to a sandy-bottomed coun-
try where he lowers a line three hundred feet down, with
a dozen hooks on it, allowing it to remain for half an
hour, then winding it up with a wheel. The catch, a
little fish resembling a sole, is considered a feast for the

Over in the San Clemente Channel we may see still
another fisherman. He has a long trawl with several
hundred hooks, which is set in six hundred feet of water,
coming up with deep-sea groupers strange, big-mouthed
fishes of deep red and crimson tints.

With them come small sharks and various strange
fishes, and enormous hammer-heads haunt the region,
preying upon the groupers and other denizens of deep
water. The gill-net and seine fishermen ply a profitable
trade. The gill-nets are set at night out in the channel,
and a variety of fishes are taken Spanish mackerel,

3 J 4 Life in the Open

bonito, barracuda, flying-fish, and many more ; and at
times a thresher shark or a big tuna swims against the
barricade. The former at once whirls over and over, in-
volving the net in ruin, while the tuna dashes through,
making a round hole. The seine is hauled in the surf
on the mainland in various places, and surf fish, halibut,
and others taken.

The surf fishes are particularly interesting, as they
belong to a peculiar group in which the young are born
alive. The latter, which I have kept in a tank, are most
interesting little creatures, very tame, feeding from the
hand, and schooling like sardines. No more interesting
locality in which to fish and study fishes can be found
than in the waters off the coast of Southern California,
as it appears to be a sort of neutral zone where fishes
meet from widely separated regions, from Hawaii to
Mexico and beyond. It is also the breeding ground for
many fishes, and the resort of countless wild sea roamers,
as bonito, mackerel, tuna, sunfish, dolphin, and many
more which can be found here in the various seasons.

Chapter XXII

A Window ot the Sea

IN the old days of Roman supremacy it was the cus-
tom of epicures and gentlemen of cultivation and
well ripened tastes to have the surmullet or the
maigre served that day introduced on the splendidly
appointed table in an aquarium, where its freshness
was demonstrated beyond question to the assembled

The angler can now go a-fishing in Avalon Bay, sit
in the boat and fish while looking down through a win-
dow of the sea ; not only see his game slightly magnified,
but watch it take the lure in water from ten to fifty feet
deep, thus observing what has nearly always been a
mystery to the fisherman.

Where this pastime is possible, twenty miles out at
sea, due to the clearness and absolute stillness of the
water, a fleet of glass-bottom boats is found ; ranging
from a rowboat with a window for a single, or two an-
glers, to a steamer holding fifty or more passengers
who drift over the kelp beds to enjoy the vistas of


Life in the Open

marine scenery and watch the myriads of strange ani-
mals seen there. The channel islands of Southern
California are the tops of offshore Sierras, rising out of
the sea ; and could we see them divested of the ocean

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Online LibraryCharles Frederick HolderLife in the open; sport with rod, gun, horse, and hound in southern California → online text (page 16 of 21)